BlueCare resident recognised on Australia Day

March 2, 2023

Professor Betsy Jackes is a resident at BlueCare’s Carlyle Gardens Townsville Retirement Village, who in the last twelve months, made The Order of Australia Honours List (2023) and became the first woman to receive an Honorary Doctorate in Science (Honorary Doctor of Science Honoris Causa) from James Cook University. This incredible recognition is the result of a life of service to botany, to conservation and to tertiary education.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Betsy to learn more about her life and legacy.

Reflecting on the news that she had made the Honours List for The Order of Australia (Meritorious and Military Awards – Members (AM) in the general Division), Betsy said “Stunned I think is the word that best describes it when I received the notification I was being considered.”

“My family were thrilled pink when they found out,” Betsy continued.

This recent recognition on Australia Day, follows another incredible honour from a university that has been connected with Betsy throughout her life. “I’ve been at JCU for a long time, working across a variety of roles,” said Betsy. “This acknowledgement, to be the first woman in science to be honoured with a Doctorate in Science at JCU, was not something I expected to happen.”

“When a member of the council called to ask me if I would accept this, I must admit I was left speechless,” Betsy shared.

The legacy Betsy has created was born from an infinite curiosity in her childhood. “As a child, my mother used to tell me ‘why can’t you just answer something without saying why?’” Betsy mused. “I think from the age of three, I was destined to want to know why.”

“We had plant breeders on our property as we were growing crops,” said Betsy. “I remember one day, it was as hot as can be, so we had wheat bags over our heads in place of hats.”

“One of the plant breeders was testing it for gluten, and I of course wanted to know why,” Betsy said. “He took the time to explain to me what he was doing and why they were doing it.”

“That marked the beginning of my interests in conservation,” Betsy reflected.

One of the biggest milestones in Betsy’s story came at a very young age too.

“I think for me, the biggest thing was getting my Fulbright grant and going to America to study,” said Betsy.

“As someone who grew up on a property out in the bush, then suddenly finding myself on a boat going across the ocean to America, this was an experience that helped shape me.”

“I think it was just one big great opening of one’s mind and the philosophy of the University of Chicago, there isn’t a better place I could have gone,” said Betsy. “The philosophy was to teach you to think, to explore ideas and think.”

“That is something that has stayed with me ever since,” Betsy reflected.

“Experiencing all these different cultures together in the university setting, coupled with JCU’s ‘learn to think’ philosophy that really opened my mind to a lot of things.”

Returning home to Australia, Betsy felt a responsibility to give back by sharing her knowledge and educating future generations of students.

“When I came home again, my mother told me ‘now that your country has educated you, it is time to pass it on,” Betsy shared. “And that is what I have always tried to do.”

Betsy lives a happy life with BlueCare now, as a resident in Carlyle Gardens Townsville Retirement Village.

“It is a new experience totally, because I am living amongst the older generation now whereas I have always worked with young people,” said Betsy. “It is a new sociological study for me, quite a different atmosphere but it was a very, very good move and I am really pleased to be living in this community.”

On the back of the recognition she has received, we asked Betsy what message she would give to Australians on the importance of conservation. “If we don’t conserve what is around us, we’re going to suffer in the end,” Betsy shared.

“If we don’t look after our soil, it is going to wash away,” she continued. “We aren’t going to be able to grow our foods, we won’t be able to grow plants and we won’t be able to sustain our animals.”

“We must learn to live with our environment now.”

Congratulations on being recognised for an incredible body of work and an invaluable service to our community and future Betsy.